Dubious Distinction for Small Town in Orleans County
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"I never owned a home up here before, and once I bought here, I found out just how ridiculous the taxes are."
Jerome Kwiatkowski lived in the state of Arkansas for ten years. His total property tax there: $1,500.
"I come up here, now I'm paying three times – $6,500, total."
A difference of $5,000, or nearly $500 more each month.
That's because the Town of Shelby imposes a property tax rate over $53-per-thousand on its residents; higher than any other municipality in the Finger Lakes region. Five other communities in Orleans County are within the top 20.
It's a problem local leaders are well aware of, and are not hiding from.
"Orleans County is among the lowest assessed value, per capita, in the entire state,” said Chuck Nesbitt, Orleans County Chief Administrative Officer.
As assessed values continue to drop, villages, towns, schools and county must all set higher tax rates to continue to meet their needs.
"Loss of manufacturing jobs in our county,” said Nesbitt. “We've got empty shells of buildings here.
We've had a number of things happen here that have been very negative."
Leaders maintain it's not a local problem. Nesbitt says he and colleagues are doing everything they can to cut spending, but state mandates are still robbing the coffers.
It's a similar story in the Medina School District, which taxes the Town of Shelby. Officials say a decrease in state aid, plus mandated costs, have already forced them to close an elementary school.
"We are 65 percent state aid as our revenue, and the other 30 percent is pretty much our property taxes,” said Sharon Zacher, Medina Schools business manager.
“We choose to try to keep our class sizes to a reasonable size, but it’s really getting to a point… where we can't afford to do that anymore to give a proper education."
Two years ago, Medina Schools passed a zero-percent tax levy increase, and they're hoping to do it again next year.
But it's too little, too late, for Jerome Kwiatkowski.
"We'd love to stay in New York State. I mean everything's here -- especially with the family, that's why we came back. Now it's like, you know, we're going to try to sell the home, so we can get away from the taxes,” Kwiatkowski said.